Empathic Listening

Stephen Covey shares some excellent advice on listening with us in his book The 8th Habit - From Effectiveness to Greatness. Listening is a very important method of communication, yet the majority of us have had little to no training in listening skills. Our schooling is heavily weighed toward the other forms of communication - reading, writing and speaking. Listening, however, is probably more important than the other three forms of communication combined. When we become effective at listening, we are able to gain important insight that could go as far as eliminating our need to communicate in return. You have probably heard the saying "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." A major way that people know that you care is if you actually listen to them.  Not listen long enough to respond but to actually listen to what the other person is trying to communicate to you. Stephen Covey says it best:

To truly listen means to transcend you own autobiography, to get out of your frame of reference, out of your own value system, out of your own history and judging tendencies, and to get deeply into the frame of reference or viewpoint of another person. This is called empathic listening.

Think about the times that you are listening to someone talk while you are having a 1-on-1 conversation. Do you find yourself waiting for your "turn" so that you can respond? Or are you able to put your own agenda aside in order to actually listen to what is being communicated to you? Many of us think that we are listening because we are attentively listening. Until you can listen and only think about what the other person is saying, there is still room for improvement. Just like any other skill, empathic listening has to be practiced over and over again until it becomes second nature. To illustrate this point, Ralph Roughton, M.D. says it best:

When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked. When I ask you to listen to me and you begin to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way, you are trampling on my feelings. When I ask you to listen and you feel you have to do something to solve my problems, you have failed me, strange as that may sound.

Empathic listening is an instrumental component of both personal and professional success. We must learn how to truly listen to our significant other, children, friends, supervisor, team members, existing customers and potential clients. You know you have started to master the skill of empathic listening when you get compliments such as "you understand me" or "I can always talk to you" from people who are close to you. So the next time someone asks "Can we talk?", take the time to listen empathically and see how much better you both feel after your interaction together!